Dream Realities and Human Struggles in Findley's "Dream"

Categories: Psychology


Shakespeare, in The Tempest, poignantly stated, "We are such stuff as dreams are made on," encapsulating the enduring fascination humanity holds for the enigmatic realm of dreams. Timothy Findley's short story "Dreams" intricately dissects this profound fascination, unveiling the intricate tapestry of human obsession and dependence on the ethereal world of dreams.

Findley's narrative delves into the mysterious allure of dreams, echoing Shakespeare's timeless words. The author skillfully explores the transient and reasoning nature of dreams, casting them as peculiar flights of fancy that demand attention and confer significance upon themselves.

Dreams, as depicted by Findley, emerge not merely as fleeting experiences but as fragments of existence with their own rationale, inviting contemplation and assigning importance to their ephemeral nature.

Introduction of Main Character

At the story's core is Dr. Mimi Menlo, a concerned wife troubled by her husband's sleeplessness. The narrative opens with her distress over Dr. Everett Menlo's insomnia, laying the groundwork for the tale's exploration of dreams.

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Dr. Mimi's chosen medium for her struggles is unveiled in the second paragraph—caffeine and the drug Dexedrine, a concoction aimed at staving off sleep.

Effects of Dexedrine

The consequences of Dr. Mimi's Dexedrine regimen are illuminated, exposing the adverse effects of amphetamine substitution for sleep. Anxiety, restlessness, and confusion surface as Dr. Mimi takes 5 mg of Dexedrine, setting the stage for the incredibly vivid dream that unfolds—a dream laden with symbolism reflecting Mimi's life trials.

Symbolism through Characters

Kenneth Albright, uniquely schizophrenic and a patient of Dr. Everett, emerges as a pivotal character symbolizing the weariness and desire for life's end that resides within each individual.

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This sets the stage for the introduction of Brian Bassett, an autistic boy under Dr. Mimi's care. In the dream state, Brian intertwines with Kenneth as a symbol of weariness and hopelessness.

This juxtaposition of characters delves into the deeper layers of the narrative, unraveling the symbolic nature of their existence in the dream. Kenneth Albright, described as "uniquely schizophrenic," embodies the darker aspects of human experience—tiredness, despair, and the inclination towards self-destruction. As a patient under Dr. Everett Menlo's care, Kenneth symbolizes the part within each individual that yearns for an escape from the struggles of life, attempting suicide multiple times before finding himself under medical attention.

Inner Conflict and Symbolism

The narrative subtly weaves Dr. Mimi's struggle with Brian's case as a parallel to her husband's challenges with Kenneth Albright. The inability to break through in both instances underscores the shared theme of grappling with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Brian Bassett, an autistic boy under Dr. Mimi's care, serves as a symbol of another facet of human struggle. In her own words, Mimi describes herself as "a surrogate warrior" for Brian, emphasizing the profound connection and commitment she feels toward his well-being. Brian, existing in the real world, is an authentic patient of Dr. Mimi Menlo. However, in the dream state, Brian assumes a heightened significance, becoming identified with Kenneth Albright as a symbol of weariness and hopelessness.

The narrative states Brian's situation as "in the process, now, of fading away... but, of course, the spirit and the will to live cannot be fed by force to those who do not want to feed." This poignant description alludes to the challenges faced by both Mimi and her husband in their respective professional capacities. Mimi's relentless efforts to break through Brian's autistic world mirror the struggles faced by her husband in treating Kenneth Albright's schizophrenic delusions, attempting to bring him back to the world of light and hope.

Dream Analysis

As Dr. Mimi grapples with worry for her husband and ruminates on her toughest case, these concerns become the raw material for the dream that occupies the rest of the story. The third-person omniscient narrative, biased toward Mimi's perspective, hints at the dream's interpretive nature, suggesting a dreamer's ability to maintain omniscience.

Brian Bassett's poignant death in the dream assumes significance as it represents the pain and grief associated with saying goodbye. Dr. Mimi's dream world allows for an omniscient viewpoint, incorporating elements like pathetic fallacy, typical of dreams but not necessarily reality.

The approach to the story, presented in third-person omniscient with a bias toward Mimi's side of the dream, adds a layer of complexity to the narrative. While the narrator theoretically possesses omniscient knowledge, the story's inclination toward Mimi's perspective suggests that the events unfold through her lens. This interplay between omniscience and subjectivity opens the door to the interpretation that the entire story could be assigned to a dream-state, where the dreamer, in this case, Mimi Menlo, holds an omniscient viewpoint without excluding elements like pathetic fallacy from the narrative.

Brian Bassett's symbolic departure from Mimi's dream, described as "a disappearing act" through which he vanishes forever, mirrors the challenges of letting go. His farewell, poignant in its simplicity with a mere "goodbye," symbolizes the difficulty in parting ways with someone in pain. The figure of Brian Basset in the dream becomes intertwined with the pain and grief associated with saying goodbye, contributing to the complexity of Mimi's dream world.

Symbolism of Blood

The narrative introduces the element of blood, specifically the blood appearing on Kenneth Albright, as a symbol of suffering. Although the story doesn't explicitly label the Menlos as religious, the reference to obtaining a doctorate in psychology suggests familiarity with religious concepts. The profound impact of religion on the human moral psyche, specifically the idea of propitiation, becomes apparent.

The narrative draws a connection between the blood on Kenneth Albright and the concept of propitiation, quoting, "without the shedding of blood is no remission [for sin]" from the Bible. Blood, a symbol of suffering throughout Judeo-Christian history, from the earliest sacrifices to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, carries profound significance. Dr. Mimi, acutely aware of her husband's patient's suffering, incorporates the symbolism of blood into her dream as a representation of his pain.

Everett Menlo, while treating the psychotic patient Kenneth Albright, undergoes a process of identification, absorbing the suffering of the man. This symbiotic relationship is portrayed in the story by the transfer of blood from Kenneth Albright through dreams to Everett Menlo. The blood becomes a tangible representation of the emotional and psychological burden that Everett carries, emphasizing the interconnectedness of suffering within the narrative.

Placement within a Dream World

The narrative underscores its dream-like quality from the second page onward, as Dr. Mimi Menlo embarks on living within a dream. Her attempts to unravel the events of the preceding weeks, seeking the truth behind her husband's insomnia, serve as the foundation for the dream world she constructs. Scientific implausibilities within the dream, such as the transfer of blood, are justified as symbolic elements integral to the narrative's interpretation rather than adherence to real-world logic.

The dream state, as portrayed by Findley, allows for a departure from the constraints of reality. Dr. Mimi, navigating through her dream world, and the characters within it, follow different rules than those governing the waking world. Scientifically improbable events, such as blood appearing on Kenneth Albright and being transferred to Everett Menlo, find justification in the symbolic sense—the strange machinations of Mimi Menlo's subconscious mind.


Dr. Mimi's fabrication of a dream-world, mirroring reality but laden with symbolism, forms the crux of Findley's narrative. The dream becomes the medium through which the human psyche attempts to grapple with the complexities of life. Findley masterfully intertwines dreams with reality, providing a captivating exploration of the human mind's capacity to navigate the enigmatic landscape of existence.

Updated: Jan 17, 2024
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Dream Realities and Human Struggles in Findley's "Dream". (2016, Jul 07). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/an-analysis-of-dreams-essay

Dream Realities and Human Struggles in Findley's "Dream" essay
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